Originally published in the Manchester Journal on May 13, 2018

On those first sun soaked days of spring it’s difficult to suppress the giddy joy that the rays engender. Maybe it’s a lack of Vitamin D, but in my world there are few things more satisfying than the break of a winter that lasted much too long.

It’s often the denouement of cold weather that motivates me to once again pursue a structured running routine. I romanticize those months spent marathon training, where every day was structured around a run, or rest, or fueling up for the next expedition. The reality was much less glamorous — how quickly we forget about ice baths and bleeding toes — but I find myself missing the grind nonetheless.

What I don’t long for, however, are the endless miles pursued along concrete or asphalt trails. When I lived and trained in Western New York there were few other options, and long runs down the Erie Canal are some of my most cherished memories from that era. As I grow older though, and bear witness to the erosion of my own father’s joints, I’m increasingly hesitant to step out the door and pound my body against the pavement.

Today though, I’m nostalgic for the fast freedom found on the road. I’ve resolved to run on only trails and dirt roads, and luckily our landscape is well endowed in both aspects. While I understand that the transition will take time, I do find joy amongst the trees. Ultimately, I know that the effort will prove worthwhile.

This is all good in theory, sitting on my couch crafting a training plan for the season, but after a few miles I realize how ambitious this goal of becoming a tried and true trail runner may have been.

The sun beams playfully poke between the branches as I shuffle along, struggling through only the third run of my training plan. While I’m working just as hard as I would on the road, my effort goes a shorter distance here — literally. Varying altitudes and technical terrain pose their own challenges, and I’m endlessly frustrated with the string of 12 minute miles that I just can’t seem to shake. Have I ever been this slow?

As I reach a more intimidating incline I remind myself to strategize. At a certain point it’s just inefficient to drag yourself upwards in running form. Power hiking — utilizing the whole body, but relying on hip and core stability — is a favored tactic among trail runners. Leaning forward with my palms pressing against my thighs, I crest the incline with a sense of satisfaction despite my lack of speed. My muscles feel refreshed after a forced break from the repetitive motion of running — a benefit that will prove increasingly gratifying as my miles add up.

I pause for a moment to soak in the sunlight before embarking on my endless search for speed, and notice delicate white buds forcing themselves above the layer of dried leaves. Though the sunlight is sparse in these parts, the flowers reach towards the scattered rays with blind faith and determination.

The steadfast blossoms linger in my mind as I pick up speed once again, and work to hone my focus and agility on the steep descent. Flying down the mountainside I once again find the freedom that road running provided, but with an endearing element of complexity. Nourished by the sunlight and wild air, I realize that it’s time to let go of the runner that I used to be — and allow myself to bloom with that same blind faith and determination.

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